“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”
– Vincent Van Gogh
A rustling came from the bushes, 15 feet away. The beam of our flashlight revealed a pair of glowing eyes, peering out at us. We were just a couple of kids, down by the lake at my parents’ house. Two teenagers looking for some alone time, sitting on an old wooden picnic table in the blackness of the night. Coyotes howled and yipped in the distance. She gripped my arm hard, fear rising. It was time to retreat.
Years later, when visiting my parents, my brother and I began taking night walks up the road into the desolate back roads of the Adirondacks after everyone else went to bed. It was our alone time, to reconnect. We would walk for miles up the road, catching up on each others’ lives. There were nights the moon was so bright it was practically daylight. There were nights so black you couldn’t tell where the ground ended and the sky began, trusting your feet to tell the difference. And there were nights so clear that the sky was filled with an unimaginable density of stars, the Milky Way Galaxy appearing to be just a long narrow cloud of cosmic dust streaking across the sky.
In the darkness, our eyes, normally leading the ship, take a more backseat role, and the other senses become primed. If you let them. Fear of the unknown can be strong. But tap into all your senses, expand your awareness, allow your eyes to adjust and trust your instincts, and it can be an awakening and wonderful experience. Eyes become attuned to the ever-so-slight shading differences in the gray scale, and the brain becomes adept at processing them. This is useful if you’re trying to avoid stepping on roadkill at 1 o’clock in the morning.
All of this was the pond of wisdom I was hoping to bring my kids to drink from when I suggested we take a pitch black night walk in the university’s nature preserve behind my house.
“Can I bring a flashlight?”
“No, we don’t need flashlights.”
“But how will we see?”
“You’ll figure it out, don’t worry.”
“But I’m scared. It’s dark.”
“I’ll be right with you, don’t worry. Your eyes will adjust. You’ll see.”
Exiting the fence in the backyard, shit got real. It was dark. Not wait a second and let me figure this out dark. It was I’m in a lead box let me out kind of dark. I laughed at the absurdity of it, trusting my instincts. I reached out my arms to feel the bushes lining the trail, which leads to the main trail, tentatively feeling forward with my feet as I knew there were several tripping hazards to get past. My ducklings followed obediently behind, clinging to my tail feathers.
Reaching the main trail that runs behind my house, we stood still for a minute. I spoke calmly to them, reassuring that their eyes would adjust. After a short while the sky could be seen through the clearing between the bushes on the sides of the trail, lighting the way. They grew excited at noticing the difference for themselves, and we were off!
A few weeks later they were begging me to take them out again. We’ve had many memorable experiences since, mostly involving college students. I get more entertainment than I should from three small children walking out of the complete darkness to surprise a group of college kids clinging to their flashlights.
The last time we were out, on a meandering trail through the dark forest, we came upon two students searching the ground with a flashlight.
“You guys ok?”
“Yeah, I just lost my phone.”
“You lost your phone? Wow. I’m sorry. Do you want help finding it?”
“No, that’s alright. It doesn’t help that I threw it.”
Yeah. To be in college again.
But do get out and experience the rich colors of the night. You won’t be disappointed.
When the title for this post came to me, this song immediately popped into my head. So there, now it can be in yours, too. You’re welcome.